State leaders could use some humility 

The judge couldn't have been more scathing in his ruling regarding Indiana's failed attempt to privatize welfare services in partnership with IBM.

Nor could the state's leaders have been more childish in responding to the ruling.

"Neither party deserves to win this case. This story represents a perfect storm of misguided government policy and overzealous corporate ambition. Overall, both parties are to blame and Indiana's taxpayers are left as apparent losers," wrote Marion County Judge David Dreyer as he awarded IBM $52 million in taxpayer funds.

Dreyer blasted the state for deciding to "fix Indiana's poorly-performing welfare system by inserting an untested theoretical experiment" that he called an "error" responsible for the loss of taxpayer money and "personal suffering of needy Hoosiers." The judge also said that the basic competence of people working for the Daniels administration and IBM was in question.

All in all, it was not a ringing endorsement of having private companies assume public responsibilities.

Nor should it be, because this "experiment" with IBM was a disaster.

Convinced that the private sector and business people are infallible and could cure what ailed the state's troubled welfare system, the Daniels administration and other true believers who worship at the altar of privatization came up with a plan that replaced caseworkers with a computerized phone system. The new system never worked.

And as it failed, the state bled dollars and - much more important - inflicted needless additional hardship on the Hoosiers already hurting the most.

Finally, after three years and a lot of suffering, Daniels pulled the plug on the experiment and fired IBM. And that prompted the litigation that led to Dreyer's ruling.

One might think that a case history like that would prompt all involved to indulge in some honest reflection - and perhaps offer a mea culpa or two.

If one did think that, one would be wrong.

Right after the judge ruled, the governor released a statement that was long on bellicosity and short of acceptance of responsibility.

"Here's what matters: Indiana, which eight years ago had the nation's worst welfare system, now has its most timely, most accurate, most cost effective and fraud free system ever. That was always the goal, and changing vendors was essential to achieving it. We'll seek and expect a reversal, and either way, it's all been well worth it to solve the problem we set out to fix," Daniels said.

So much for modeling accountability. Would it have killed the governor to acknowledge that - possibly, just possibly - in their haste to solve a bad problem, the governor and his team made some mistakes for which they are sorry?

Then there's Indiana House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, who proved with his statement that he and the governor are skilled at bringing out the petulant toddler in each other.

"In their usual efforts to avoid responsibility for anything they have done wrong, the governor and his minions will claim that this ruling is beside the point. They will say their decision-making was right all along. But this is yet another example of an administration that continues to screw up at every conceivable opportunity in its final days in office," Bauer said.

Continues to screw up at every conceivable opportunity?

Really? Hasn't Bauer visited a license branch recently and found that, thanks to Daniels, visits that used to take hours now take minutes? And would it have hurt Bauer to acknowledge that - maybe, just maybe - the state's welfare system was in bad enough shape to require serious reform?

For some reason, when Daniels and Bauer start jawing at each other, I'm reminded of Talleyrand's famous dismissal of both Voltaire and Robespierre:

"Whenever I think of one, I prefer the other."

The saddest thing about this sorry episode is what the judge noted in one of his ruling's more somber passages - that there is no way to "fix" the damage done to the lives of poor and struggling Hoosiers who needed help and couldn't get it while this experiment was going on.

It would have been nice for one of the state's leaders to take a minute away from chest-thumping to acknowledge that.

And, maybe, just maybe, hang their heads a little bit.

John Krull is director of Franklin College's Pulliam School of Journalism, host of "No Limits" WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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